Biden has tense exchange with reporter over Pope Benedict's funeral

‘The reason I'm not attending the funeral tomorrow is it would take an entourage of a thousand people to show up’

Andrew Feinberg
Wednesday 04 January 2023 20:33 GMT
Pope Benedict XVI dies aged 95

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he is staying away from the funeral of the late Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI because his attendance would necessitate a massive and disruptive entourage of security and other personnel.

Benedict, who died on 31 December, was elected to the papacy in 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II. Eight years later he became the first pope to resign from office since 1415. His funeral is set for Thursday and will be conducted by his successor, Pope Francis.

It’s not unheard of for US presidents to attend the funeral of a deceased pope, who in addition to being the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics is also the head of the world’s smallest sovereign state, Vatican City. When John Paul II died in 2005, then-president George W Bush and former president Bill Clinton attended his funeral.

But Mr Biden, who is just the second Catholic chief executive in US history, told reporters he’s not attending because of the burdens his attendance would place on Vatican City due to the large security and support bubble that travels ahead of and with the president.

Asked why he wasn’t attending by Owen Jensen, a reporter from Catholic television network ETWN who is known for combative exchanges over abortion with Mr Biden’s press secretaries, the president responded: “You know why.”

Pressed to explain further, Mr Biden responded: "The reason I'm not attending the funeral tomorrow is it would take an entourage of a thousand people to show up. We would move everything in the wrong direction.”

He added that he and the presidential entourage “would just get in the way” and said the late pope had been “a fine man”.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Mr Biden said he would “always remember” Benedict’s “generosity and welcome,” as well as the “meaningful conversation” he had with the late pontiff when the two men met in 2011.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the official US delegation at Benedict’s funeral would be led by Joe Donnelly, the former Indiana senator who is current US Ambassador to the Holy See. She added that Mr Donnelly’s attendance was “in line with the wishes of the late pope and the Vatican”.

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